Fantasy Hockey: The Curious Case of Josh Bailey
With most teams about halfway through the season, players like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares are near the top of the points leaderboard. There is one name, however, that I’d bet didn’t get drafted in many fantasy leagues. Josh Bailey already has 50 points in 41 games and is tied for second in points in the entire league. He is also second in assists with 38. This puts Bailey on pace for a 100-point season.
Although Bailey was selected ninth overall in 2008 and had 56 points last year, no one expected this. I can safely say that even the owners who drafted him in the late rounds or grabbed him off waivers didn’t see this coming. It is kind of crazy that this story hasn’t been made into a bigger deal. After all, Bailey is 28 years old, and this is his 10th season in the league. Surely, this can’t be sustainable, can it?
A deeper dive into Bailey’s numbers show that, with his 38 assists, he is more of a playmaker than a scorer. He is also good in special teams, as 21 of his 50 points have come on the powerplay. However, he doesn’t take many shots, with only 73 shots on goal. Although he is shooting more lately, he’s still averaging just 1.8 shots on goal per game. To be fair, he is also scoring more goals now. He had seven goals in 15 games in December, including a game where he had a hat trick. He also has a 16.4 shooting percentage, which suggests he might regress soon. Anders Lee and John Tavares do most of the shooting on Bailey’s line, so he doesn’t need to be responsible for that since it’s not a big part of a game. However, if that line is struggling, he may not be useful. That hasn’t been an issue this season, though, considering they’ve been producing all season.
Bailey has been decent on the defensive side of things. He has a 48.9 Corsi for percentage. He has a +1 in the +/- category. He is also weak on hits (seven) and blocked shots (18). Because he doesn’t do a ton of those things, Bailey is not great from that fantasy perspective and can be one-dimensional. Of course, he is worth keeping on your roster due to his assists and special teams points. He kind of reminds me of Johnny Gaudreau or Mikael Granlund. They produce a lot of assists, are great on the power-play, and will get the occasional goal from time to time. However, they can’t be relied on in other fantasy categories.
Bailey is a quality option this season, and he’s especially valuable in leagues that don’t count hits or blocked shots. His long-term value, however, is a bit of a question mark. At age 28, it is possible that he’s a late bloomer and is just finding his potential in his 10th NHL season. However, NHL players usually stop their growth once they’ve reached their third or fourth season. There are some exceptions, of course, most notably Brad Marchand or Joe Pavelski, but that’s not usually the case.
Bailey was a first-round pick and went ninth overall in 2008 to the Islanders. The year before, he had 67 assists and 96 points in 67 games in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires. The Islanders could have put Bailey in the AHL for a time when he was starting out, but they put him in the NHL right away. He had 25 points in 68 games his rookie year, which isn’t great. But considering the Islanders were the worst team in the NHL that year and ended up winning the John Tavares sweepstakes, it isn’t all that bad.
Speaking of John Tavares, that’s the other thing to think about long-term for Bailey. Tavares has the ability to make other players better. This was one of the many reasons he went first overall. Tavares is a franchise-changing player. Although the Islanders have struggled when he’s been there, Tavares has always been consistent and can produce points independently from who his linemates are. This is one of the thoughts as to why Bailey has been doing so well this season: He is just another player that Tavares has helped make better. That said, hockey is a team sport, after all, and Bailey seems to have a penchant for assists. Tavares is an elite player, for sure. But making passes to make sure his linemates have an opportunity to score is a useful skill. In that way, Bailey is just as important to Tavares.
This will become more important during the offseason because both Tavares and Bailey will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Before this season, this wouldn’t have been a huge issue. But now that Josh Bailey is having a breakout year, he’ll want a raise. Considering the Islanders will want to sign Tavares to a large deal, they may not be able to re-sign Bailey, too.
From a fantasy perspective, this doesn’t mean much in one-year leagues. However, in keeper or dynasty leagues, Bailey might not be an Islander next season. Tavares may not be, either. This is where you get to answer the same question GM Garth Snow will be faced with. Do you think Bailey’s hot first half is sustainable, or should you sell high on him now while he’s hot? Now is the time to decide to either stick with Bailey or see what you can get for him in a trade.